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by Lisa Muloma



by Kristen Davidson

I am a shade
over the surface of a world
that will never
ask me to stay awhile.

Some shiver
when they feel me pass
but the moment
passes and is forgotten.

Will none delight in the shifting of shades -
orange and green,
spectrums of immortality
that live because of you
inside of me?

Whirring like slow ballroom dance,
silent trees fall unobserved
but unseen substance is hardly limp.

I am naked
but you dress me
in draped body and blood -
choosing my shoes,
combing my hair,

spinning thoughts of me
like shining beads
across a universe
with eyes to see,

skin tuned to the
ache of every

1 Genesis 16:7-11, 13-14 NIV

2 Haeckel, Ernst, “Art Forms In Nature” (New York: Prestel, 2008)
This poem was written in 2007, a time in my life when I myself was feeling particularly unseen. Thus I found myself engaging with many other unseen things.

There are lots of reasons that things may go unseen. Something could be invisible to the naked eye and therefore be unseen: diatoms, Christ, microbes, atoms, quarks, neutrinos, to name a few. Things may be unseen because they are unquantifiable, not yet named, or hard to describe. Transience often results in things, people, and realities remaining unseen - the refugee, for instance. Another - Humid Acid, invisible beneath our feet, the gift of the deceased to the soil food web. It moves too fast to be studied with our present technology, so the debate goes on as to whether it may be said to exist at all. There is also the unseenness of the culturally overlooked - an introverted single female in the evangelical church, or the Egyptian slave of a jealous woman - a slave with no rights of her own, useable, transferable and disposable.

Like Hagar.

My attraction to the story of Hagar was instinctive, and primarily poetic. I had no philosophical or theological bent. As I read her story, it played like the tines of a music box over my own feelings of being unseen, and the accompanying grief over all the world’s unseen pain. I read it over and over:

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert [...] And he said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’

‘I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

‘You are now pregnant, and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery[...]’

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi (Well of the Living One who sees me)1

Like a low hum, the wider dynamics of the story fade into the background. All I could hear was: “For the Lord has heard your misery.” And Hagar’s response: “ I have seen the God who sees me.” So she returns, as instructed by the angel of the Lord. Then three chapters later she is again cast out and begins to weep. The Lord responds to her cries with miraculous rescue and promises even more expansive than those that came before.

In this big picture of promises and salvation history, Hagar could be seen as a bump in the road, a victim of Sarah’s unbelief. Hagar has all the look of a bit player. However, this bit player occupies significant space in the story. She cries out, a woman with no one to hear her, and is dynamically heard, seen, and responded to by the living God.

How desperately I wanted to hear the same words spoken to me: “I have heard your sobs, I have seen you.”

The next decade of my life would reverberate with that theme - sometimes louder, sometimes softer. It was a simple story unfolding in underground caverns, on hidden pages, in a broken and mending heart. Through storms of self-loathing, whispered prayers, and songs of truth I held onto for dear life. It also happened in the tender care and prayers of beloved friends. Little by little, a glimpse at a time, I too came to see the God who sees me.

Oh, I had other unseen friends in those days. If my affection for Hagar was poetic, my love of diatoms was aesthetic. I found a copy of Art Forms in Nature2 by Ernst Haeckel, and I was enthralled by these lace-guilt spaceships. I loved their forms, first and foremost, but also wanted to know all about these unseen things which had remained overlooked for ages. Diatoms, the second most common life form on Earth (after bacteria), are unicellular algae formed of elegant siliceous boxes with their own, customized lid and ornamented rims. These unseen aquatic neighbors, notorious show- offs with thousands of different shapes and sizes, are vital to existence. If you were to look for a methods manual for viewing diatoms on a microscope slide, you may come upon the following:

What can you expect to see when viewing a prepared diatom slide?

A series of neatly aligned pictures that have been cropped and graphically enhanced are normally displayed to illustrate diatom taxa in books, manuals and guides. Whole cells are usually illustrated in valve view in such guides and most of the morphological characteristics are visible. Fragments or broken pieces are not normally shown. However, your slides will have diatom cells that are orientated at different angles, often lying obliquely or in girdle view and some may be damaged or fractured fragments. Different types of microscope illumination may also provide slightly different images to those found in routine identification guides.3

3 JC Taylor, WR Harding, and CGM Archibald. ''A Methods Manual for the Collection, Preparation and Analysis of Diatom Samples”., Page 9

4 Schubert, Franz, “Ave Maria” Op 52, 1825

How unlikely it would be that I would ever know about this world of diatoms without someone telling me how to look, how to see what is actually in front of me. The diatom introduced me to its world of co-conspiring microbes, and their building materials: molecules, atoms, subatomic particles. I courted my unseen friends with the love of a true amateur, for I am no scientist. But my whole self was being trained as an observer of the unseen.

While I was in school I took a job caring for an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer's and his wife near the end of her life. It was a frustrating job, often painfully mundane, but at times I felt a sense of holy awe as I walked through the daily movements of their lives. I remember helping the nurse give Betty her weekly bath, and nearly crying at the beauty of her withered frame. When Betty passed away I was sent to the store to find something for her to wear for her funeral. I walked into the store, and there it was: a dress suit, blue and white, and truly noble. She would never have worn this, I thought, but it affirms the truth of who she really is.

After Betty passed, I continued caring for her husband, Ben. It became to me a delight to bear witness to his life. Mr. Ben loved making things. After Betty’s death, he began to cling to creating as if it could save him. It started with drawing and painting, mimicking the images in his nature magazines. I would bring him twenty pounds of clay at a time and watch him transform the mass into curious sculptures, ultimately filling an entire closet.

I bore witness as he lost touch with the physical world, his paintings and sculptures revealing more and more of his inner reality. His images, once storms of creatures and text across a page, disassembled into rows of colored blocks populated by blank, unseeing eyes. You’d think this change would be a slow march, but it happened in fits and starts, often following a shift in his medication. The pharmacopeia played out in his work. Like diatoms on a slide, I could isolate and examine his mental ecosystem, diversity and lively interaction yielding to oblique arrays of abstract watchers.

Four years passed in this manner. Expecting my first child, my physical capacity waned as the demands of Ben’s care increased, and there came a time when I had to let go of my role as caregiver. I promised Ben that I would continue to visit, and I did. Twice, to be exact, in the month between my departure and Ben’s passing. The last time I saw him, he told jokes and sang songs from his bed, and I prayed for him and blessed him. His passing was quiet, the memorial was tiny. In the weeks after his death, grief haunted my routines. It ran errands with me and wrote in my journal. Memories of other griefs began to emerge from the fog.

A particular memory that stood out was another sort of loss. I was caring for Mr. Ben at a time when I had lost a really good friend. My friend had not died - he had only decided that it was a better idea not to be friends any more. It was exceedingly painful, and in my pain I felt my senses numbing. To Mr. Ben’s dismay, we were stuck together during this time. “You’re not any fun” he would say. “I know” was my only response.

One day, to give him something to do while I nursed my wounds, we visited Union Station. We sat together on a bench under soaring ceilings, among the bustling crowds. He drew. I stared blankly as I whispered over and over; God help, God help me, my words pinging off into space as I sank into blackness.

Suddenly, as if a light had been turned on, a song rose bright and clear in the middle of the station. While we were absorbed in our own personal misery, a children's choir had covertly assembled in plain clothes in the middle of the bustling public space, and without warning or announcement began to sing, “Ave Maria! Maiden mild, listen to a maiden's prayer! Thou canst hear though from the wild; Thou canst save amid despair.”4

Ben and I stared, stunned as the final echos tapered off into the din of activity. Ben, flung into joy, began hooting and whistling. I was lifted from my darkness like coming out of deep water. In that very moment I had been heard by God in all my wounded pain. He came to me not with answers, but by seeing me right there in that moment, and responding to me in the language of swift, unanticipated beauty.

5 Taylor, Harding, and Archibald. ''A Methods Manual...”. Cover page.

6 Genesis 1:31a, English Standard Version

7 William Ernest Henley, 'Invictus',

8 Diane Ackerman, “The Moon By Whale Light” (New York: Random House, Inc, 1991), page 4.

9 Colossians 1:20, The Message Bible

What is the significance of a single life, small and unseen? Mr. Ben worked as a maintenance man at a power plant until he was married to Betty later in life, then he worked for the city. He had no children. He liked animals and designed houses that would never be built. Mostly, he just fiddled about in the garden. He was not so sure about God. The whole thing never really made much sense to him. He said the bit about the tree that “THEY” were not supposed to eat from sounded unfair. He claimed that God was always ready to smash anyone that got in his way.

Ben listened to my alternative narrative - the creation story - amused but unconvinced. “And God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good,”6 I read. “Now that’s a load of bologna if I have ever heard one” he replied. But he kept bringing it up. One time, after telling him the creation story, he burst out with a counter narrative of his own. He recited, with gusto, from memory:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.7

“This is what I believe” said Mr. Ben.

And I bore witness.

On a warm morning in June, a few weeks after Mr. Ben’s death, I walked outside on my way to work. Crossing the road to my car, I saw a flutter from the corner of my eye. I looked closer. It was a small bat. I gazed for a moment in wonder at its funny pug nose, delicate transparent ears, and furry little body. One of its leathery, leaf-like wings looked wounded - and he was in the middle of the road. For all my delight in this creature, I knew that attempting to move a bat was a bad idea. Moving to my car, I sat in the driver’s seat trying to figure out what to do. At that very moment a car came flying down the street and, to my dismay, crushed the bat. I felt the collision in my emotional core. Up came hysterical sobs from unsounded depths.

I had recently read an essay in which a bat expert by the name of Merlin D. Tuttle referred to bats as “Shy and winsome creatures who have received a lot of bad press.”8 I think back to pictures I have seen of bats with their mouths open and their teeth eerily bared. I have learned it is through their open mouths that they echolocate. They send wide mouth calls into the environment and listen as the echos of those calls bounce off of objects in the vicinity. A bat pair in a year may produce a single bat pup, but the whole roost may be destroyed by humans after unsubstantiated claims linking bats with some feared disease. It is so easy to attribute blame to something so different.

Some minutes later, the emotional storm subsided and I attempted to gather my thoughts. What just happened? Why am I crying like this over a bat? In the silence that followed I heard the words “the bat’s name is Roi.”

Roi. Seen. Like Hagar at the well.

Again in that moment I knew the seeing of God. It was not a bird or sparrow that he called me to witness, but a “shy and winsome” bat. An invitation from God, like the one from Mr. Tuttle, to look closer and see what He sees when he looks at this misunderstood and overlooked creature. This holy naming situated Roi within my circle of unseen things, seen and beloved by God. He belonged, alongside Mr. Ben, Hagar and diatoms, to the most ancient story within which we are situated, “and God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.” As a part of this family he becomes part of the story of a broken and mending world, where “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe - people and things, animals and atoms - get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of [Christ’s] death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”9

There is skill required for the act of seeing. We must steward a capacity for delight, slowing our frenetic moments and embracing a more expansive time signature. We must, with humility, maintain our ability to pull back, to see the vast panorama, the whole ecology within which we are situated even as we lean in for closer looks. And mostly we must remember that we see as through a glass darkly that much of what we see is broken and fragmented, oblique and confusing. In seeking to be imitators of God as revealed in Christ we are called to be a people who see what is unseen, to see what is hidden, and ultimately to affirm the goodness of all that God has made.


1 Genesis 16:7-11, 13-14 NIV

2 Haeckel, Ernst, “Art Forms In Nature” (New York: Prestel, 2008)

3 JC Taylor, WR Harding, and CGM Archibald. ''A Methods Manual for the Collection, Preparation and Analysis of Diatom Samples”., Page 9

4 Schubert, Franz, “Ave Maria” Op 52, 1825

5 Taylor, Harding, and Archibald. ''A Methods Manual...”. Cover page.

6 Genesis 1:31a, English Standard Version

7 William Ernest Henley, 'Invictus',

8 Diane Ackerman, “The Moon By Whale Light” (New York: Random House, Inc, 1991), page 4.

9 Colossians 1:20, The Message Bible


Kristen Davidson would tell you she’s an amateur at everything, but I prefer the term “holistic inter-disciplinarian.” Homeschooled throughout her childhood, she obtained her GED at 15 to begin training in Culinary Arts. She has enough credits for two masters’ degrees, scattered across English Literature and Fine Art (but has yet to complete her undergrad). She has a knack for seeing things from an unusual cross-section, keenly identifying significance and intuiting undergirding tenets of oft taken-for-granted things. She has recently moved from the urban core of Kansas City to South-Central Kansas with her husband and two children to learn to farm and care for land as neighbor. She’s a speed-reading dyslexic, impossibly reserved extrovert, a wife, mother, chef, ceramicist, gardener, food advocate, and cherished friend.

- bio written by Kristen’s husband, Beau.